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Last Updated: Monday, 4 April 2005, 08:27 GMT 09:27 UK
The money man: Keith Barwell
Northampton businessman Keith Barwell has been a lifelong supporter of the town's rugby club.

In 1995 as the game turned professional, he paid 1m to gain control of Saints and he stills remains the club's owner and chairman.

Here he talks about the pressures of the day-to-day running of a Premiership rugby club.


Keith Barwell
Barwell has endured both ups and downs at Northampton
It's been an interesting time since taking over at the club. Do I enjoy it? Yes. Do I wish I could bail out? Sometimes.

Running a rugby club is like when you're on a skiing holiday and you find yourself on your bum at the bottom of the crevasse. You think to yourself, "what the hell am I doing here?"

I'd always had links with the club and I decided when things were turning professional that we needed to do something to hold onto our raft of internationals.

So I approached the club with 1m to take control and they gratefully accepted. A lot has changed since then.

Gates have soared - to the point where we're adding capacity for another 2,000 for next season.

Rugby attendances on the increase

On the field, things have not gone all that well. But I'm sure we'll turn it around.

Looking at the game as a whole, there's no doubting things need to be sorted out - most notably the club-v-country debate. But the problem is we all have such different agendas.

We went from a time when rugby was just beer and blokes to a point where England won the World Cup.

I understand that England coach Andy Robinson wants access to his players but the clubs obviously have a problem as we share a 30m wage bill between us.

That's paid for by our supporters and they want to see their big-name players play. They are customers and they have a right.

I'm not whingeing here, it's just everyone has to be a bit more realistic, and it's disappointing so far we've not been able to sit around like adults and talk about it.

Northampton celebrate winning the Heineken Cup in 2000
  • 1888 - Club founded by Reverend Samuel Wathen Wigg
  • Franklin's Gardens - Northampton's ground - used to be a pleasure gardens and small zoo
  • 1995 - Barwell buys club for 1m
    2000 - Beat Munster 9-6 to win Heineken Cup
    2005 - Drop to bottom of Premiership, sack coach Alan Solomons
    People are talking about all these injuries and then blame the Zurich Premiership and the clubs for playing too many games.

    But England coach Andy Robinson is looking for too many excuses. Ten years ago there was one pre-Christmas international and four Five Nations matches.

    Now there are three before Christmas, five in the Six Nations, an extra Barbarians game and then a summer tour. It's not us causing the problem.

    I appreciate we do have to allow England access to their players, but I don't think central contracts is the answer.

    If that came in, we wouldn't have any England players here. We'd go for more retired internationals and foreign players. And that's not good for the future of the international side.

    As it stands it doesn't make all that much sense to have England players for a director of rugby who is under pressure to win... or get sacked.

    It's difficult to know what the solution is. My fellow chairmen aren't for it but I like the idea of franchising the country - a sort of take on the past proposal of Rob Andrew and Fran Cotton.

    For example there's nothing for Devon and Cornwall. What I'd propose is Northampton, for example, to be the team for East Anglia, Leicester representing the Midlands and taking on board Coventry and Nottingham, etc.

    That way we can finally make rugby a national game, which it's not despite what people think.

    I envisage us having 14 franchises, which falls in nicely geographically, and it would certainly be the way to ensure more English players coming through.

    But this looks unlikely to ever happen. I proposed it to my chairmen and, while there was some support, the majority don't like it. As a result, the game looks likely to fumble on in the dark, which is a shame.

    The other issue I'd like to see changed is the salary cap. It doesn't take a genius to work out that if you are struggling with a squad of 25-30 players, you need a bigger squad.

    For that, you need more money. I'd prefer the idea of 50-man squads. Therefore players could be changed on a more regular basis and avoid the issue of burnout.

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